Not sure where to start, so I will begin slightly before I opened my bike shop. I spent my younger years learning my way around the kitchen and assuming I would spend the rest of my life cooking and eventually owning a restaurant. I went to college for culinary arts and added a second degree in business management. RIT had one of the few programs that allowed you to combine an applied science degree (culinary) with a business degree. In the end getting both degrees added a fifth year, but in hindsight it was worth it. Upon finishing school I wasted no time and got right to work (took my last exam on a Tuesday and was working full time that Friday). The job I landed was a salaried job which on paper sounded great for a "green" graduate. Although that green status was a bit odd since I was 22 and had been working in the kitchen since I was 15. Anyway that job burned me out faster than I would have ever expected and within six months I knew I needed a change.
I was now 23 and hated the idea of earning a paycheck from another person. I grew up in an environment of self-employed people. My parents, grandparents, aunts and most everyone in my family were self-employed. I never heard "I hate my boss", "I cannot handle going to that job another day!". When I would talk to my dad I would say, "My boss is a jerk and takes me for granted". His reply, "Then quit!". Well, I did and gave the boss a two-month notice. The only other thing I enjoyed other than working in the kitchen was riding my bike. The two months would be spent opening my bike shop while still working to maintain some money. I lived like a monk and dumped everything I had into a bike shop in a neighborhood (Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia) that once was the home of the famous Hill Cycle. Hill Cycle went under about five years prior and nobody filled the void. I was young and ambitious but also "green" for real this time. I knew a lot about cooking but did not know all about bicycles. I took the money I was going to use to buy a Yeti ProFro (as well as my life savings) and said, "Well, all my new bike dreams are on hold until this gets off the ground".
From the beginning I wanted to take a different approach to having a bike shop. This shop would be built around selling only things I liked and used. Not in business just to be in business. I had Gary Fisher and Schwinn to start, but I wanted to become a pro shop and to add some custom lines. I called Fat City but found out they were in complete turmoil and had to wait about one year before Independent would show up. I was one of the first Moots dealers on the East Coast and that was the beginning of my "custom" thing. We ended up being one of the first Independent dealers as well as a Vicious Cycles dealer. Got Parlee before they hit the mainstream as well as a lot of other products that were niche and not popular until many years after we said it was a solid product. We built a solid clientele in Philadelphia and found our niche in a few areas like mountain bikes and promoting cyclocross, but I stand firm on saying that everyone who works for me is a cyclist (not a roadie, not a mountain biker, not a hipster, but just someone who loves riding bikes).
The building my bike shop is in has been in my family for about 70 years and my grandfather built the warehouse in the rear sometime in the 1950's. My grandparents had an Oriental rug business (it seems to be a popular thing for us Armenians). We now use the 7,000 sq ft. warehouse behind the bike shop for storage of the bikes to be repaired, new bikes in a box, overflow of assembled bikes and inventory. This space was where I always knew I would build bicycles. This plan needed many elements in place before I felt it would work. First I wanted to master the bicycle, fit, wheelbuilding, all things business-related and so on. I have built lots of wheels, I stopped counting after around 10,000 and felt that was enough (I used to build Peregrine 48's in the winter on contract).
After 10 years in business I had the capital to either expand the bike shop retail into the warehouse or take the bike shop to the next level and become a real pro shop. I went with the latter option. I sold all my personal custom bikes and bought my first collection of machinery. I have never looked back on that decision and felt any remorse. Some say I now have a problem with buying machinery but I say I just am doing what I love. I love lots of things but my top five in order are my wife (and family), bicycles, making stuff, machinery and earning a solid living. Adding fabrication to my job has allowed me to see myself doing this in 30 years (I'm 38 now), whereas if someone told me I would be doing the retail thing in 30 years I might have had an empty feeling in my gut.
I attribute my success in the bicycle business to my willingness to work insane hours as well as to an incredible family that raised me in a way that allowed me to dream big and never settle.
Thanks for reading.